Any women who may be planning to attend the traditional Simchat Beit Hashoeva festivities (water-drawing festival) in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim this Sukkot may want to think twice, as they may no be allowed to enter the area.
The water-drawing festival is a time-honored tradition held in the Hasidic courts of the capital for decades. The celebrations are a known crowd draw, with some 15,000 people visiting the events every night, in the past few years.
The last two years have also seen Meah Shearim's streets divided into men and women's galleries for the sake of chastity; but this year's festivities have been clouded by a demand made by the extreme groups within the neighborhood's community, such as the Sicarii, which demand women be kept out of the festival altogether.
Men to the left, women to the right. Meah Shearim (Photo: Haim Zach)
Some of the splinter groups have even gone as far as threatening to forcibly prevent women from entering the area; gathering some 2,000 signatures to that effect and threatening to use "a foul-smelling chemical agent" to drive people away.
A pashkevil (religious flyer) titled "Enough!", which was hung throughout the neighborhood over the past week, declared that "the residents of the Mea Shearim neighborhood hereby inform all the residents of the Holy Land and the visitors coming to celebrate Sukkot in the holy city of Jerusalem, that our neighborhood is not a tourist center.
"Let it be made clear that this year we will not allow tourists and visitors to stroll in our streets at all hours of the night, under any circumstances."
Concerns over possible riots have led to several joint meetings between officials from the chastity squads and the Hassidic synagogues, as the matter was even brought to the attention of the Orthodox Righteous Court of Law.
The court ruled that the festivities would end each nigh, no later than 12:30 am, instead of by 2:30 am, as they did in past years.
The court further ruled that the women's gallery would be restricted to the wives and daughters of the city's various religious courts, who would require a special permit to attend. Visitors will not be allowed in the women's gallery.